Fear of Dentists

Did you know that 75% of all Americans have a fear of dentists? The fear can range from mild anxiety to total avoidance. Two terms commonly used for this phobia are odontophobia and dentophobia.

This phobia may lead some patients to wait until a minor dental issue becomes a major dental emergency before they will seek the professional help they need to repair the problem.

The Cause of This Phobia

This phobia is often precipitated by a bad experience in the past with a dentist. The patient remembers the pain, the rehabilitation, and they might even remember multiple details about the dentists office. They replay the experience as if it is a bad dream.  In this case the phobia may actually express itself like posttraumatic stress disorder.

Interestingly the demeanor of the dentist may hold a key to why some patients experience trauma. A dentist who seems cold and calculating may actually be very good at what they do, but their lack of a fear-relieving bedside manner can actually contribute to long-term anxiety in patients.

A dental patient that may have multiple problems in the dentist’s chair, but have a caring and approachable dentist may allow some fears to remain undeveloped.

Dental Phobia Signals

One of the primary signs that an individual may have a dental phobia is avoidance. They have trouble committing to a day to come in for treatment. They will find virtually any excuse justifiable in canceling an appointment and if they don’t cancel they might just refuse to show up.

Other signs

  • Extreme sensitivity while in the dentist’s chair
  • Panic attacks
  • Extreme frustration over a perceived lack of personal control
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Sweating

Some argue that it is difficult to assign the term phobia to a fear of the dentist because, for many, it is a known circumstance that may be feared simply because the individual has experienced pain while under the care of a dentist and simply wishes to avoid that again.  A phobia is generally defined by the irrationality of the fear. Sometimes the fear a patient experiences is rational based on a pattern of visits with a dentist. In this second case it might not be considered a true phobia.

Overcoming your fear of dentists

There are some dentists who also have a staff psychologist who can provide the help needed for some patients to deal with their fear. One of the strategies these professionals may use is Systematic Desensitization. This process involves peeling back the layers of fears by addressing them one by one until you get to the original fear and gain mastery over that.

Dentists who will take the time to let their patients know exactly what will be happening to them and what they can expect will be doing their patients a favor by allowing the patient to adjust to the ‘known’ procedures without fearing the worst.

There are also those who suggest individuals consider involvement in an online group dedicated to issues dealing with their fear of the dentist.

Where do you stand? Do you have a fear of the dentist or is it an irrational phobia that is debilitating? How do you deal with this issue?

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